‘June 10, 2008 – We had a frost last night – grrr!”
So begins an old entry in my garden journal which sounds amusing now, but underscores the weather extremes Inland Northwest gardeners often have to endure.
Garden journals are valuable tools that help us remember many important things, but they are only useful if we take the time to write notes in them.
The most important information that goes into my journal is what worked last season and what didn’t.
Every fall, I make a list of what I want to accomplish in the garden the following year. I critique any new vegetable varieties I grew, remind myself to try new techniques I’ve learned and I list cool plants I’ve seen on garden tours.
You can make your own journal using a binder, filler paper and section dividers that have pockets. In addition to using it for garden notes, it can hold articles you’ve clipped from garden magazines to provide inspiration for future projects.
The Spokane County Master Gardeners have two-year garden journals available for purchase. They contain a wealth of local gardening information, photos and recipes. Call (509) 477-2048 to inquire about them.
Making vegetable garden plans for each year is another important form of record-keeping.
Several years ago, I created a blank template of our raised beds on my computer. Each year, I print a new copy and look at the garden layouts from the previous three years to decide where each crop should be planted. This ensures I rotate my crops.
What’s crop rotation, you ask? It is the practice of planting crops from each plant family in different beds from where they were grown previously. You may have heard of farmers rotating their crops but it is just as important for home gardeners to do this.
Plants have different nutritional requirements, with some crops being particularly heavy feeders. If you plant the same crops in the same bed year after year, the soil will become very depleted no matter how many organic materials you add.
In addition, some plants are susceptible to certain insects or diseases. By changing where crops are planted each year, you will break the cycle of the insects or diseases present within the beds where they were last planted.
To do this successfully, familiarize yourself with the vegetable plant families. Beets, spinach and Swiss chard all belong to the same family. Cruciferous crops include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes and kale.
The umbelliferous family includes carrots, parsley, parsnips, cilantro and dill. Members of the lily family include chives, garlic, leeks, onions and even asparagus.
The legume family includes beans and peas. Believe it or not, lettuce and tarragon are members of the sunflower family.
One of the most important families to know about is the nightshade family because it includes tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and peppers – all popular vegetable crops.
The most annoying pest these plants attract is the Colorado potato beetle. In addition to hand-picking the beetles or their larvae, crop rotation is an effective way to make it difficult for them to find their favorite plants.
Now that you know your plant families, plan your vegetable garden based on where you planted your crops in previous years. For example, when I picked a location for my tomato plants this year, I avoided choosing any bed that had potatoes, peppers, tomatoes or eggplants growing in it the past three years.
I went through the same process for every crop I’ll be planting. This can be a bit tedious but the results are well worth the effort.